Illegal wildlife trade finds a new marketplace—social mediaTraders are turning to social media to reach out to potential customers to sell wild animals for their meat and to be kept as pets, in the domestic market.
People buying groceries, electronic gadgets, dresses and books online has become common these days with the availability of the internet and social media.
But the internet has also become a place for trade in illegal items, including wild animals, their body parts and meat. Several pages and groups on Facebook have been found to be actively involved in such a trade.
According to wildlife conservationists, traders are using social media sites to sell various mammals, reptiles, and birds. This is a worrying trend, they say.
“Traders are using several pages and groups on social media to sell wild animals’ meat,” said Raju Acharya, a wildlife conservationist. “That such trade is going on shows that protected species are being hunted and captured illegally.”
According to Acharya, the most commonly traded species killed for their meat are wild boars, kalij pheasants, barking deer, red junglefowl, and monkeys.
“Most of the animals are traded online for their meat,” said Acharya, also the executive director of Friends of Nature Nepal, a youth-led non-governmental organisation working in the field of environment and wildlife conservation. “If this is happening in broad daylight on social media, we can infer that efforts by concerned authorities to control poaching of wild animals have not been adequate.”
Chiranjeevi Khanal, another wildlife conservationist, who closely follows such trade on social media, said birds like parrots are the most common ones to be sold on social media.
“We can also see many posts on wild boar meat. However, no one knows for sure whether the meat on offer is of a wild boar,” said Khanal. “Species like tortoise are also being sold in such groups.”
According to Khanal, generally, youths are found to be involved in such activities.
“I have even found a pangolin on sale. And, I have also captured a photo of an elongated tortoise, an endangered species being sold through social media.”
The trade in wildlife parts may be taking place easily and in the open, but such practices are against the law, officials say.
Nepal’s wildlife conservation law does not allow the killing or injuring, selling, or buying and selling of wild animals and their parts, except under official permission.
Haribhadra Acharya, spokesperson for the Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation, said that as per the National Park Wildlife Conservation Act, 1973, no one can kill or injure, or even sell a wild animal.
“The department keeps getting complaints that people are taking to social media to sell wild animals and their parts. Even last fiscal year, we issued a notice after there were reports that wild animals were being sold on social media for their meat,” said Acharya. “Most of the time, such incidents are happening because the members of the public are unaware of the consequences of their actions.”
However, according to conservationists, such practices are going on unabated in different parts of the country, even in Kathmandu.
“Trade in wild animals is happening across the country. For instance, monkeys are sold in western Nepal for their meat and for making local alcohol and medicine,” said Acharya, the conservationist.
“Then the meat of wild boar and kalij pheasant is easily advertised and sold in restaurants in cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara. The law has listed only 26 mammals as protected ones. But that does not mean the remaining animals can be killed or sold easily in the market.”
Even though hotels and restaurants claim to be serving dishes made of wild boar meat, it is illegal to do so.
Last year, the government came up with a new rule that allows farmers to kill wild boars if they damaged their crops. However, doing so requires compliance with a host of conditions.
As of now, the only place where animals can be hunted is the Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve where permission can be obtained to hunt for Himalayan blue sheep (naur) and Himalayan tahr (jharal) after paying the park its fees.
“Even keeping wild animals and birds as pets is not permissible by law,” said Acharya.
The fifth amendment to the National Park and Wildlife Conservation Rules introduced a provision to grant permission to a person or entity for commercial farming and reproduction of various wild mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. But the law hasn’t been implemented.
“Until then, our laws do not allow trade in any wild bird or animal,” said Khanal. “But common birds like parrots are ignored by local forest officials and security forces as well, until and unless someone files a complaint.”
For Acharya, the conservationist, the buying and selling of wildlife using social media platforms pose a new challenge to protect the country’s valuable wildlife. “While existing wildlife trade routes are used for smuggling wildlife parts abroad, the internet is being used to create a domestic market.”